Penn State Women¡¯s Tennis Enters Big Ten Championships as 11th Seed
STATE COLLEGE, Pa., April 26, 2004 ¨C The 11th-seeded Penn State women¡¯s tennis team will begin play at the 2004 Big Ten Championships with a first-round match against sixth-seeded Ohio State this Thursday at 11 a.m. The Championships will be held at Northwestern University¡¯s Vandy Christie Outdoor Tennis Center unless inclement weather forces a move to the Combe Tennis Center.
Penn State finished its dual season with an overall record of 6-16 and a conference mark of 0-10. The Nittany Lions concluded the regular season last weekend with home losses to Minnesota and then-No. 39 Iowa. Penn State will be looking to snap an 11-match losing streak when it counts most, as the winner of the Big Ten Championships receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Ohio State, ranked No. 49 in the nation, finished its dual season with a record of 10-12 overall and 5-5 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes closed out the regular season last weekend with consecutive 5-2 victories over Iowa and Minnesota. The wins broke a three-match losing streak that included losses to Illinois, Wisconsin, and Big Ten Regular Season Champion Northwestern.
Penn State and Ohio State went head-to-head back in mid-February, with the Buckeyes posting a 7-0 shutout at home. Ohio State owns a 21-13 advantage over the Nittany Lions all-time. Penn State last defeated the Buckeyes in 1997.
Penn State will likely start Leigh Ann Merryman (Laguna Beach, Calif.) at No. 1 singles. Merryman, the team¡¯s lone senior, finished the dual season with a record of 7-15 overall and 0-10 in the conference. She garnered Big Ten Women¡¯s Tennis Athlete of the Week honors following an impressive performance during the team¡¯s spring break trip to Florida in mid-March.
Veteran junior Megan Marton (Phoenix, Ariz.) will compete at the No. 2 spot in singles if a nagging injury allows. Marton finished at 8-11 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten, but she has been hampered by a stress fracture. Last weekend, the injury limited her to doubles duty only.
Two more experienced juniors are expected to occupy the middle of the order for the Nittany Lions. Maaria Husain (Marion, Ohio) finished the season with the team¡¯s best singles record. Competing in the No. 3 position, she went 10-12 overall and 3-7 in the Big Ten. For the second-straight season, she finished with the team¡¯s most overall and conference singles wins. Sarah Spence (Calgary, Alberta) held down the No. 4 spot all year and closed out the dual season with a record of 6-15 overall and 1-8 in the Big Ten.
Penn State¡¯s final two singles positions are handled by a pair of talented freshmen in Sasha Abraham (Hyderabad, India) and Katelyn BeVard (McLean, Va.). Abraham went 6-10 overall and 1-8 in the conference at the No. 5 spot. BeVard competed at the No. 6 position for most of the season, finishing with a record of 8-10 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten.
After experimenting with a variety of doubles combinations early in the season, the Nittany Lions have settled on a solid trio of doubles teams. Merryman and Marton, arguably the team¡¯s most experienced players, have competed together in the No. 1 position to finish at 8-8 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten. Husain and Spence, the No. 2 tandem, won their final two matches to finish at an even 5-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten. The freshman duo of Abraham and BeVard also won its last two contests, finishing with a team-best record of 7-6 overall and 5-3 in the very competitive Big Ten.
Penn State is under the direction of fifth-year head coach Buffy Baker. Baker has posted an overall dual match record of 43-64 since taking over at Penn State. In 2001, she led the Nittany Lions to their best-ever finishes in conference play and the Big Ten Championships and their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
The winner of Thursday¡¯s first-round match between Penn State and Ohio State will advance to face third-seeded Illinois in the second round on Friday at 3 p.m.